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The Cave of the Underground Astronauts


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Transcript-The Cave of the Underground Astronauts
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Do you love fossils, adventure, and spending time in small spaces? If so, you could become an underground astronaut! Marina Elliot, Becca Peixotto, and Kenni Molopyane found this unusual job description through a Facebook ad, and landed deep inside a cave that few people can access. The team of archeologists talked to Tumble in the middle of excavating Homo Naledi, one of the biggest recent discoveries on the human family tree. Find out how they squeeze through a 7 inch gap on their daily commute, and how their work could change the way we understand early human history.

In our episode, we focus on the journey of being an underground astronaut. If you're curious about Homo Naledi itself, you've come to the right place! Here are resources to learn more.

Homo Naledi

This Face Changes the Human Story. But How? This article explains the basics of the initial discovery and research.

The video below is a short summary of the first expedition. See Marina using a paintbrush to excavate!

National Geographic Explorer and expedition leader Lee Berger describes how he first discovered Homo Naledi.

Full National Geographic Documentary on Homo Naledi

Recent research:

Explore the Dinaledi Chamber in Virtual Reality

So, most people will never see the inside of the Dinaledi Chamber IRL. (Something tells us it's never going to be a great "fit" as a tourist destination.) But don't worry, you can still experience what it's like to be inside, with VR technology!

Screenshot of the vr experience app

The Perot Museum, where Becca Peixotto is the director of the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey, has put together a free VR app. You'll need Google Cardboard or try out this DIY VR viewer tutorial.

If you happen to be in Dallas, the Virtual Reality Experience is an exhibit within the Perot Museum's Being Human Hall.

What's next?

We spoke with Marina, Becca, and Kenni during their November 2018 expedition. But there's lots more to discover at Rising Star! Here's a January 2019 update from Marina.

"The expedition in November was very successful, but we havent processed many of the fossils we recovered as we are looking into using some new techniques to analyze them. And, typically, just at the end of the expedition, we hit a dense area of bone fragments, so in fact, we are also back in early February to continue to excavate this interesting patch. Before that though, we have a hot-shot 3D scanning team from National Geographic coming over to re-scan the whole sub-system in very-high resolution 3D. We are also going to do some ground penetrating radar (GPR) on the sediment floor to see if we can use it to 'peek' below the surface. This might give us a better idea of where bones are (or arent). All of the scanning/3D work will not only help us visualize the spaces, but will allow us to share really cool images to the public when they are done (similar - hopefully - to the awesome VR project that we did with the Perot). The excavations afterwards will bring up more naledi material, but also give us more information about how the bones are distributed in the cave, and maybe tell us how they were originally deposited. We shall see though!"

Hear more from our interview with the underground astronauts!

Become a Tumble Patreon supporter starting at $1/month, and you'll get BONUS INTERVIEW EPISODES from all our latest episodes. Find out more about training to become an underground astronaut, why it's not a good idea to watch YouTube caving videos before you set off on an expedition, what keeps the scientists motivated during long days underground, and more. You'll be helping us make Tumble, and learning so much more!

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